The question of campus safety has been raised among many Drake students, mostly concerning the recent campaign rally for President Trump taking place on campus.
Drake has been known for positioning itself as a hub for politics for the 2020 Presidential race here in Iowa.
The university wanted to take advantage of getting the school’s name out. Whether it be the announcement of “live from Drake University” before commercial breaks of the Democratic Debate; or hosting the President of the United States in the Knapp Center, the university is trying to build a brand as the center of politics.
Over the J-Term, students who were on campus got to see the buzz of hosting the Democratic Debate.
The event gave many students different opportunities to work for all the news and media that went into the days leading up, and night of the debate. However, students were also faced with constant cameras filming around campus from unknown groups.
“We’ve worked closely with university communications to try to vet who was on campus,” Scott Law, Drake’s director of public safety, said.
These groups were closely coordinating with Public Safety and expected to follow university rules and procedures throughout their time on grounds.
“You do run into some groups that, their goal is to do that ‘gotcha’ kind of moment,” Law said.
When these groups were reported, they were asked to leave.
One of the issues is that places like Olmsted Center are open to the public. The expectation is that people still maintain respect for the university rules. Law mentioned, nine times out of ten, people don’t know the rules and will change their behavior when asked. Law doesn’t deny that some groups are here with more negative intentions.
It is a balancing act for Drake’s public safety, especially when it came to the massive event that was the Trump rally. Law went over all the precautions taken starting even the night before the rally.
Des Moines police officers were brought in, both uniformed and non-uniformed, to patrol the campus with the task of keeping students safe. Staff were placed in dorms to check student IDs as people came into the halls. Buildings on campus were locked for non-student or faculty. Secret service had uniformed and non-uniformed officers patrolling the area around the rally. Gating was used to generally contain people to areas near the Knapp Center.
Law also mentioned that the large teleprompter at the rally, while not the idea of Public Safety, did a good job at keeping people engaged in one, more controlled part of campus.
Contingency plans were made at the call of President Marty Martin, who wanted preparation for any ‘what if’ scenario, and the emergency operations center was open for about 27 hours prepared for those situations.
Even with all of this communicated, students still felt unsafe.
“I felt unsafe because nationally news-wise, [Trump’s] supporters aren’t kind to LGBTQ or people of color,” LGBTQ student of color Jacob Galos said.
With instances of Trump rallies becoming dangerous and hostile in several areas, it’s not a misplaced fear.
Law spoke of the fact that there were a few issues reported in the parking lots.
“I don’t think [those were] nearly the level of issues we had prepared for,” Law said.
While these preparations were done hypothetically, the idea that the university was willing to take the risk didn’t go unnoticed by students.
“There was still a chance that anything could happen,” Galos said.
Even with all the precautions, Galos didn’t feel much safer.
So it goes back to the balancing act that Law and public safety have to face. Law acknowledged that some students felt unsafe; nevertheless, he stood by the choice to have Trump on campus.
“As an institution of higher education, one of the things we have to do is allow for differing opinions to be heard,” Law said.